In this desert state, just add drought to those other inevitables: death and taxes.

While city dwellers along the Wasatch Front gulp their usual gallons of the stuff, Utah's farmers say they're smarting after the four-year dry spell.Utah's water conditions rate an "extreme" rather than just "severe," according to State Climatologist Gaylen Ashcroft. "It turns out now we're in a drought over the entire state.

"Our groundwater tables are very low. Our reservoirs are very low. Our springs are dried up and some of the wells close to the surface have dried up," Ashcroft said.

Based on the Palmer Drought Index, which measures rainfall and ground moisture, five of Utah's seven regions rate at minus four, or below, an "extreme" drought rating on the scale. Only the northern mountain and the Uinta mountain regions are experiencing just moderate drought conditions.

Ashcroft has to look back some 40 years, back to the 1950s, to chart an extended drought cycle lasting longer than four years.

It would take 8.24 inches of rainfall in October to alleviate drought conditions along the Wasatch Front, while normal precipitation for the month is just about an inch.

The drought cycle would end if Utah experienced normal levels of rainfall for 16 months, he said. "If we had 120 percent of normal rainfall, it would take just one year and we could call it (the drought) off and go home."

Despite the severe conditions, Ashcroft said few Utahns appear aware of water shortages. "I feel like other than the farmers that are directly involved or the cities that have had to limit their watering, we just haven't heard too much of it.

"As we go around we see it, but in many cases it hasn't had a direct effect on our lives."

Those in the agricultural industry continue to scramble. Ranchers have scouted for grazing land outside the state, while farmers are supplementing their livestock's diet.

Drought. "It's on everybody's mind up here," says Lynn Butterfield, manager of Logan's Intermountain Farmers Association. "It's kind of like the national anthem.

"The last three years up here we just have not had the water. If we don't have a winter this year, I don't think the gamble's going to be that good.

"A lot is going to hinge on the weather this year."

While northern Utah's industry officials say local farmers are suffering through some lean years, they are quick to empathize with the plight of their southern colleagues. "You drive down there and, man, them boys have really been hurt," Butterfield said.

LaMar Clements, manager of Walton Feed West in Cache Junction, said the lack of rainfall has stripped the quality and yield from grain crops, forcing farmers to start buying feed supplement for their animals earlier in the season.

But while officials keep sounding warnings, most city dwellers, surrounded by green lawns, appear unaware. Culinary water supplies seem to be outlasting the drought.

"It just doesn't loom big over people's minds like maybe it ought to," said Ross Murdock, greenhouse manager for North Logan's White Pine Nursery & Landscaping.

"It's not like everybody's running in and asking about drought tolerant plants."



It's dry

According to the Palmer Drought Index, which measures rainfall and ground water, five of Utah's seven regions are in at least "severe" drought conditions, said state climatologist Gaylen Ashcroft. A rating from -3 to -4 equals "severe," while beyond -4 is "extreme." In normal water years, Utah usually ranks 1 to -1.

The ratings are:

Northern Mountains -2.2, moderate.

Uinta Basin -3.5 severe.

Wasatch Front -5.5, extreme.

Western division -4.4, extreme.

Dixie -4.3, extreme.

South Central -5.3, extreme.

Southeastern -4.1, extreme.